By Ian Rigg
You know those days at the gym, where you just don’t have the energy to finish? You have the physical potential, but you just sort of phone it in that day? That may be what happened during the writing and devising process of WaistWatchers the Musical, now doing reps at the Royal George.
The premise of a women’s gym musical actually has much promise, and craftsmanship is apparent in many other spheres of the show, but it is all squandered on surface-level parody and sophomoric gags that only a 1950s librarian would find raunchy.
Some of the songs are unoriginal and repetitive, and some of them literally singing about the thing that was just sung about. We get glimpses of the hearts beating within four women and their individual struggles, but these bits tend to feel forced. Like a workout, WaistWatchers can sometimes feel tedious and leave you wondering why you started. But that being said, the wannabe-raucous workout still has things to enjoy. Where it fails in ambition, it succeeds in group entertainment, because the rest of the creatives in this fitness class are working up quite a sweat.
Joe Schermoly’s set really pulls off the verisimilitude of a private women’s gym, and is thoroughly imagined and executed. It’s further elevated by Erin Penney’s ingeniously exhaustive property construction: set and props work perfectly in tandem to ensure that no inch of space remains unused throughout the show.
Costume designer Jill Rose Keys expertly selected each outfit to reflect each character’s personality where the writing leaves slack: high-key fitness teacher Carla is in the latest Fabletics collections; well-off but highly strung Cheryl color-coordinates; brash divorcee Cindy wears sports and novelty T-shirts; and Connie, working out for the first time to put a spark back in her worn-out marriage, has the reflecting wardrobe.
Director Matt Silva blocks slickly and paces the show quickly. Music director Vince Demura makes the best of what he has to work with (many of the melodies are snatched from sources as diverse as ABBA, the Village People, and even Oliver!) and all of the entrances and cut-offs are rather precise. Dani Tucci-Juraga’s lively and kinetic choreography is executed very well.
That’s because this commendable cast is working their collective ass off to make it all work.
Kiley L. McDonald, consummate professional, tackles the rigorous physical demands of the show with splendor and killer facial expression.
The bubbly and effervescent Katherine S. Barnes is underutilized, but shines in every sight gag she’s in, whether it be as a lunch lady or a not-so-little blue pill.
Krissy Johnson has amazing vocal control, and the killer commitment to be able to dance with a giant Viagra tablet while keeping a straight face.
Sarah Godwin brings a bawdy voice to the lackadaisical Cindy, no doubt earning lots of audience relatability points.
And it all may be worth it for Martha Wash and her legendary blend of blend of pathos and brassy power. She brings the comedic charisma and deeply human feeling that pulls the piece beyond its premise.
All that being said, perhaps what they say is true: the most important part of the gym is just showing up. Waist Watchers would do well in community theatre, like Nunsense, or in a late-night comedy hour and a half, or anything you can go to with a large group of friends and turn your brains off to enjoy one another’s company. If you go into Waist Watchers The Musical with low expectations, and just embrace the ride, it could still be one helluva girls’ night out.
The Royal George Theatre hosts “WaistWatchers The Musical” through December 31 at 1641 N Halsted Street, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.